Vladmir Putin is on everyone’s mind these days. But who is he and how did he rise to power in Russia?
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: So today I thought that we might talk about someone who has been in the news quite a bit these days. Yes. In Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And that person is Vladimir Putin. He’s the president of Russia and has been for actually quite a while, off and on in sort of a sketchy way. So I thought it might be good to visit his history a bit and get a little more context on his life story. I know we do stories sort of about heroes and people that are awesome. We just recorded an episode on Rosa Parks and we’ve had so many awesome people that we’ve shouted out. But I also think it’s important to study people who maybe aren’t so great and see what commonalities they have, how do they behave and how do they acquire power. And I think the more that we know about people like that, the more we can avoid being ruled by these tyrannical type of people. So, to start out, I will give you a little bit of background about his early life. Vladimir Putin was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on October 7th, 1952. He grew up, with his family in a communal apartment. So basically like a communist sort of tenement type thing.
Brittany: Which apparently is pretty, cause I have a friend, who’s Russian apparently like it is normal for in a small apartment to have like five or six people like five. Wow. Which I was like, what? She’s like, oh yeah. I lived in a one-room apartment with like six family members. I’m like, okay, that’s nuts.
Emma: That’s crazy, man. Wow. That would be a lot. I grew up with a bunch of siblings and I’m imagining what that would be like. But yeah, so he lived in this communal apartment. This is when Russia was very much a communist, nation empire. So he went to Leningrad state university and earned a law degree. And then he began his career in the KGB as an intelligence officer. So the KGB is pretty crazy. They have a pretty crazy history. Maybe we could do a whole episode on them sometime. I think that’d be a pretty fun one. But the KGB is a Russian intelligence agency that is notorious for being one of the most vicious and deadly special forces in the world. They’re basically known as these really, brutal assassins that kind of control the political tides in Russia. And they’ve been caught several times even trying to attempt to influence other countries as well, other countries, politics when there’s something that has some sort of interest for Russia. So Vladimir Putin served with the KGB for quite a while, over a decade. And he retired in 1990 with a pretty high rank. I forget exactly what the rank was, but after the fall of communism in 1991, this is when the Soviet empires kind of falling apart. The USSR as we know it. Putin becomes an advisor to a politician named, I’m gonna butcher this name Anatoly Sobchak.
Brittany: Sounds good to me, I dunno.
Emma: When Sobchak was elected mayor of St. Petersburg Leningrad, it has a couple of different names, but it was Putin’s hometown. He was elected mayor that year and Putin became his head of external relations. So that’s sort of how he got involved in politics, to begin with. And by 1994, Putin had become this mayor’s sort of first deputy mayor, right-hand man type guy. So Sobchak was defeated in 1996 and Putin resigned his post and moved to Moscow, which is the capital of Russia. And it was there in 1998 that he was appointed the deputy head of management under Boris Yeltsin’s presidential administration. So he was president before Putin became president. And in that position, he was in charge of the Kremlin, which is like we always say the White House, the Kremlin is basically Russia’s version of the White House.
Brittany: It sounds so much murkier though, doesn’t it? It does.
Emma: It does, it sounds really like scary and sinister, I don’t know like.
Brittany: Where a villain would live, so maybe it’s fitting.
Emma: Yeah, exactly. The Kremlin. So shortly afterward, Putin was appointed head of the Federal Security Service, which is an arm of what used to be the kgb as well as the head of Yeltsin’s Security Council. So he got very close with the most powerful man in Russia. And you, when you watch the rest of his career, this is sort of where he really starts to take off as a politician. So in August 1999, Yeltsin dismissed his prime minister, which it’s kind of confusing. Russia has a president and a prime minister and it’s not totally clear always how that works with the division of duties and of power. but it does seem like it’s something that’s used often as a tool for sort of corruption and extending people beyond their term limits, which you’ll hear a little bit more about in a bit. So he dismissed his prime Minister, Yeltsin did. And along with his whole cabinet, he basically fired everyone, cleaned the house, and put Putin in his place. And that’s sort of where he starts to become this major figure in Russian politics.
Brittany: So at this point, so it’s 1999 and Boris, how did we say his last name?
Brittany: So Boris Yeltsin had resigned as president of Russia and a appoint appointed Putin as acting president. Acting president is like, you don’t have a full president yet, so we’re gonna put this guy to kind of be like substitute president for a little bit. So until the official elections were held, so in 2000, which doesn’t seem long to me, and then I think about it being 22 years ago and that, that freaks me out. I feel old but was elected to his first term with 53% of the vote. So he was promising both economic and, you know, political reforms. And he was, he wanted to restructure the government, he wanted to launch criminal investigations into the business dealings of high-profile Russian citizens. And he also continued Russian’s military campaign in Cheche. I can say this one, but I can now Che, Chechnya,
Brittany: Chechnya. I was like, I can’t say it. Which is now part of the Russian Republic. And this is very confusing cuz Eastern Europe is so confusing because you had the USSR and then it broke up. So, if you are a little confused, that’s because it’s very confusing in general. Yes. So in 2004, that’s when I graduated from high school, Putin was reelected as president. but due to constitutional term limits, he was prevented from running again in 2008. So, that same year, shocker, the term limits in Russia were extended from four to six years. But so his protege, Dimitri, these names Medvedev. Okay. That’s a homework assignment for you guys to figure out how to say that. He took over as president in 2008 and he immediately get this appointed Putin as Russia’s prime minister. So like, basically Putin found a way to become in charge again, which I have to give him credit like it’s evil, but it’s very sneaky. Like he figured out what to do. So he still had control. So, on March 4th, 2012, Vladimir Putin was reelected for his third term as president, but the Russian people weren’t happy about this and there was a lot of protests. One thing that’s fun that I heard today just a side note, is that right now Putin is able to be president until 2036. Geez. So think about that, especially if he got into power. When did we say he was? So, first term was 2000. That’s almost 40 years.
Brittany: I know if he’ll live that long, but I mean, Biden’s older than Putin, so who knows? That’s true. That’s scary stuff.
Emma: So, after all of this craziness with Putin where he’s being elected and reelected, there’s all sorts of crazy stuff going on with him and his government where he is consolidating power. He’s basically increasing the amount of power that he can have as president. And like Brittany said, he’s extending the amount of time that he’s able to be president until 2036, which is just crazy to think about. So after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Soki, is that how you say it? Is it Soki?
Emma: Sochi, okay. yeah, I always get that one wrong. So after this kind of contentious Olympics, there were all sorts of questions about, you know, what do we do about the Olympics in Russia? There were all of these crazy problems. We could probably go into a whole different episode on that on another day. But there was a lot of political unrest in Ukraine. And its President Victor Van Yakovich was ousted. The United States actually did have a part to play in this by basically getting involved in Ukraine’s government. And this was not a good thing because as we know, getting involved in other governments leadership is not something that we would want done to us. It does not follow the golden rule. So Putin did not like this. He sent Russian troops into Crimea, which is a peninsula in the country’s northeast coast of the Black Sea. And that had been part of Russia until 1954. Then it became part of Ukraine. So they were kind of fighting over this area, and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations claimed that approximately 16,000 troops invaded the territory. And Russia’s actions caught the attention of several European countries and the United States who refused to accept the legitimacy of this referendum where, you know, a bunch of the c Crimean population voted to leave Ukraine and go back to Russia. So basically what was happening there is Putin may or may not have had this sort of fraudulent election where all these people in Crimea said, Hey, we wanna leave Ukraine and go back to Russia because for a lot of these territories that were part of the USSR, they didn’t like being a part of it. And they wanted to get out because communism is not enjoyable, and they wanted independence and they didn’t wanna answer to Russia. So a lot of people did not believe that. But once again, a quick reminder that we do not think that it’s good for us to be involved in other countries’ elections and all of this. So kinda an interesting little piece of the history there. So Putin defended his actions and he insisted that the troops sent into Ukraine were only meant to enhance Russia’s military defenses. And he’s talking about, you know, his Black Sea fleet with its headquarters in Crimea. And he also denied accusations by other nations, including the United States, that Russia was trying to engage Ukraine in war. And as we know by now, we all know how that ended with. All these years later, Russia actually launching a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, which has been just crazy to watch. all of the stuff that’s going on there it’s wild and it’s really sad how these, this Russian government has basically pitted Russian and Ukrainian people against each other who, you know, naturally would, maybe they don’t wanna live in the same country, but they have way more in common than they do different from each other. And it’s just been really sad to see how all of this has happened. But as you know, as I’ve kind of said throughout this episode, I think it’s really concerning that so many people are using this moment to call for us to intervene more in what’s going on there. Because I think a big part of why, you know, this conflict was set up to happen is because the United States did get involved with another country’s elections and kind of tried to put in a leader who we thought was gonna be friendly with us. And you know, like Ron Paul always talks about occupying other countries or interfering in their affairs is not a great way to, you know, make friends and keep the peace. So, that’s kind of my closing thought on all of that history. I will also say, you know, it’s interesting looking at Putin’s life and we don’t actually know that much about what he’s like personally. He’s done all sorts of crazy stunts too. Yeah. Seem like this big tough guy. And there was this one time where he like faked that he had saved a journalist from a tiger and like rides around on without his shirt on. Like he does all this weird, crazy stuff. But at the end of the day, I do think that you know, these tyrannical sorts of power-hungry leaders tend to have a lot in common where, you know, they have these traits of sort of manipulating things to stay in power and subverting the will, you know, ignoring what their constituents want so that they can do what they wanna do. So I think it’s an interesting little study into what this can look like, you know, depending on the person, depending on the country. But I will say in closing, Russia has a very crazy history as a country. So if you’re ever interested in learning more, definitely look into that a bit because it goes way back and it’s like crazy at truly every part of their history. So we’ll wrap it up here today, guys. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you all again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.